At the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) on F Street, you can now walk down a corridor that leads you through a New York apartment (in pink), a Berlin foyer (in green) and a hallway in Seoul (in cerulean blue). These are the former homes of artist Do Ho Suh, and set against the granite columns inside SAAM, they look like an apparition.
These are Do Ho Suh’s fabric sculptures, his Hubs, and the centerpiece of SAAM’s latest exhibition “Do Ho Suh: Almost Home,” which opened on March 16 and is on view through August 5. The exhibition is the most comprehensive Do Ho Suh exhibition on the East Coast and includes work strictly made for the exhibit, according to director Stephanie Stebich.Stebich lays emphasis on the exhibition as being part of a recent initiative at SAAM to feature artists who may not have been born in America, but who SAAM still recognizes. Other artists recently featured at SAAM include Nam June Paik, Isamu Noguchi and Rufino Tamayo (whose exhibit was covered here.)
“We are proud to highlight artists who have contributions to the story of American art,” Stebich says. “Often, they are global citizens and have spent an important amount of time during their careers in the United States, and thus we think they impact our art scene and our lives.”
Hubs has drawn the most attention at the exhibit. It’s so large that you can walk through it, and the color of the fabric is arresting. But, it’s not the only art on view. Along the walls of the gallery, there are what Suh terms “specimens,” parts of his other homes rendered in the same style, and his “thread drawings.” Distinguished curator Sarah Newman recounted her first experience with Suh’s work in her remarks.
“I can vividly remember the first time I encountered Do Ho’s fabric architecture works. It was in 2003, and it’s been lodged in my brain ever since. It’s the perfect paradox of form and idea. It was an exquisitely, almost obsessively realized version of the world. But at the same time it was ethereal, almost ghostly to be in its presence.”
Suh’s Hubs and his specimens speaks to an era of globalization, Newman says, and they speak to the experience of longing for an absent home. This is in fact what Suh also says about his work, according to Newman.“They’re suitcase homes that he can pack up and take anywhere, and they service his desire to live in the presence of places left behind.”
Suh’s “thread drawings” register more like expressionist paintings, only they are thread embedded in cotton, and, for me, the exhibition could fall flat without these. While the specimens are rendered in God-counting-the-hair-on-your-head detail, they can feel clinical (except for maybe the impeccably done toilet seat or the somewhat kinky Seoul Home 1). The thread drawings, however, exhibit Suh’s humor and personality.My Homes, for instance, features a series of homes and figures done in a cross-sectional style. Some of homes stand on the head of a figure, while others seem to come out of a figure’s behind. Hubs may be the breezy summer home of my dreams, but My Homes is the one I’d like to take home with me.
“Do Ho Suh: Almost Home” is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through August 5. The exhibition is open daily 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Free entry.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: F and 8th Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-1000; www.americanart.si.edu